Because James Baldwin Educates Educators, Too - The Jose Vilson

Because James Baldwin Educates Educators, Too

November 1, 2011

James Baldwin

Here’s James Baldwin, acclaimed writer and activist, on the purpose of education:

Since I am talking to schoolteachers and I am not a teacher myself, and in some ways am fairly easily intimidated, I beg you to let me leave that and go back to what I think to be the entire purpose of education in the first place. It would seem to me that when a child is born, if I’m the child’s parent, it is my obligation and my high duty to civilize that child. Man is a social animal. He cannot exist without a society. A society, in turn, depends on certain things which everyone within that society takes for granted. Now the crucial paradox which confronts us here is that the whole process of education occurs within a social framework and is designed to perpetuate the aims of society. Thus, for example, the boys and girls who were born during the era of the Third Reich, when educated to the purposes of the Third Reich, became barbarians. The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.

Way past whining, he posits what some of us actually know about education currently. Further, he lays out the contradiction we as teachers face as we revolt against the current establishment. #OccupyTheClassroom belongs to no one. It’s a movement that’s been around for decades; it’s just got a new name.

I think I’ll let the man speak for himself some more.

Mr. Vilson, who’s still working on getting to be this type of teacher …

This post was written by...

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

For more about me, read here.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Ivey November 1, 2011 at 10:49 pm

In my school, we are actively encouraging kids to speak up and make a case for change when they see a need. it’s easier for some teachers than others, but “voice” is actually part of our mission. Don’t know if we’re raising “no matter what the risk” kids, but it might also be a matter of relative importance. To eradicate stereotypes, maybe any risk is worth it. To change the dress code, maybe not.

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Jonathan November 13, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Just, wow.

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